By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Inactivity leads to increased risk of metabolic syndrome
Health experts say two-thirds of American adults are now considered overweight. An increasing number of them are beginning to suffer from something called metabolic syndrome. It’s a collection of five health problems that, taken alone wouldn’t mean much. But, when they’re added together, they dramatically elevate the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Maybe you’ve never heard of metabolic syndrome. It’s had different names. Not long ago, it was called Syndrome X. It’s name was changed because all five of the health problems have to do with how the body metabolizes hormones and sugars.
If you have slightly high blood pressure, slightly elevated blood sugar, slightly elevated triglycerides, a decreased HDL and your waist circumference is a little bit larger than it ought to be, the combination is a big deal.
That’s because the problems all interact and exacerbate each other leading to insulin resistance and heart disease. When taken together, they can push a person’s risk for heart disease up by as much as 30 percent.
Individuals who have lots of fat tissue, adipose tissue in their abdomen have a different kind of fat tissue than if you’re storing fat in your legs or somewhere else, because that kind of fat tissue is not just a passive storage depot where we put our fat. That particular type of fat tissue is a kind of an organ that secretes hormones, and they’re very bad hormones, hormones that can lead to a damage of blood vessels, to high blood pressure, to hardening of the arteries and heart attacks.
People with metabolic syndrome may feel healthy. That’s why it’s so important to be more aware of this syndrome. Cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure and body fat are all easy to measure. And especially as people age, it’s more important to measure them, particularly because they can be reversed. A healthy diet and daily exercise can bring down all these risk factors.
Even a little physical activity may go far in preventing metabolic syndrome. One recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fitness in early adulthood can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome later in life.
People who are not physically active are twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome and its complications than people who partake in at least some regular physical activity. Most people know that exercise is beneficial to help prevent metabolic syndrome. But recent studies have shown that physical inactivity is actually a precursor to developing the condition. The Finnish study examined 612 people who did not have metabolic syndrome at baseline. After four years, 107 had developed the condition and most who did also reported the least amount of exercise.
Convenience items like riding lawn mowers save time and make life easier, but are contributing to an overall decrease in physical activity. The number of obese children is particularly concerning because many of these children are at risk for metabolic syndrome.
The trends in physical activity are alarming. Since the 1950s, children have markedly reduced their physical activity. Studies have shown that children now watch an average of 25 to 30 hours of television each week.
The rise in physical inactivity among children is cause for concern, since physical inactivity predisposes a person to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Physical inactivity is one of the most powerful risk factors for overall mortality and is associated with a two-fold increase in overall death for both men and women. Physical inactivity could even be compared with cigarette smoking for its effect on overall mortality.
This article was originally published March 1, 2004 in The St. Tammany News.